Friday, Oct 2 | 1:15-2:25 pm

DEEP CONVERSATIONS | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

Precursory Aesthetics to the Deep Ecology Movement

Nicolas Noble 

Deep Ecology is situated in the justification of the environment as an aesthetic phenomenon; the genealogy of this hermeneutic follows the thought of existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger to the ideas of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who sought to abolish from philosophy the Platonic pursuit of a disembodied truth and to replace at its centre the cultivation of life as an artistic statement, which renders life meaningful in and of itself. Applied to the motivation of the artist, aesthetics is most essentially the question of whether art is a “lie” posed against nature, as argued by Oscar Wilde, or whether it is an address to and embodiment of nature, as articulated by Friedrich Nietzsche. Wilde’s conception of art as artificial beauty created by the artist against nature leads him to conclude that nature is aesthetically displeasing, something which must be improved and enhanced by the artist through its portrayal in artistic media such as poetry and the visual arts, as he argues in “The Decay of Lying.” Nietzsche, conversely, despised the “art for art’s sake” aesthetic articulated by Wilde, writing in Twilight of the Idols that “[a]rt is the great stimulus to life: how could it be thought purposeless, aimless, l'art pour l'art?” (p. 93). 

This presentation will explore these two competing conceptions of aesthetics as they relate to the justification or devaluing of nature as an aesthetic phenomenon. This presentation will then consider the implications of these conceptions from the contemporary Deep Ecology Movement. Presenting Oscar Wilde and Friedrich Nietzsche as representatives of the two competing conceptions, I also invoke the ideas of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, discussing Buber’s contribution to the Deep Ecology Movement through the application of his I-Thou philosophy the environment.  


Nicolas Noble is a graduate student enrolled in the Masters of Interdisciplinary Humanities Program at Trinity Western University in Canada. He is the editor-in-chief of [spaces] literary journal, and also serves as a teaching and research assistant to many professors at the university. He has presented at numerous conference in British Columbia on a variety of topics. His main research interests are John Milton, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, the incarnations of the Faust myth in the western literary cannon, and German modernist literature. In the future, he intends to continue his studies in literature in a PhD. Program in Canada or in Britain.

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A Strain of the Earth’s Sweet Being: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Vincent van Gogh in Conversation 

Sharon Fish Mooney

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Vincent van Gogh were contemporaries, born within nine years of each other and dying within one year. Though there is no indication they ever met, they shared much in common; this included a way of looking at a world “charged with the grandeur of God” as Hopkins penned, and a world where we are “surrounded by poetry on all sides” as van Gogh expressed in his art and letters.

In response to their understanding of creation, Hopkins and van Gogh shared similar views about threats to the natural environment.  “And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil/And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…”  wrote Hopkins, reflecting on man’s exploitation of nature in God’s Grandeur.  “The part of Brabant I know well has since changed enormously through land reclamation and industry” van Gogh wrote to an artist friend. “Well, what will remain in me is something of the austere poetry of the true heathland.”

Hopkins, the Jesuit priest who originally wanted to be an artist, repeats environmental themes in his nature poems, calling the reader to observe and respond. Van Gogh, the artist who originally wanted to be a pastor, echoes similar themes in paintings like Heath with a Wheelbarrow which reflects the “austere poetry” he saw in Drenthe compared to changes brought about in Brabant. 

My PowerPoint presentation will incorporate slides of van Gogh’s paintings coupled with excerpts from Hopkins poems, van Gogh’s letters and some of my own ekphrastic poetry based on van Gogh’s art. I will focus my remarks on the poetic understanding of the environment van Gogh and Hopkins shared, how their perspective impacted their lives and influenced both their art and poetry, and what they can teach us as artists, educators and poets.


Sharon Fish Mooney’s poems have appeared in RUMINATEFirst Things,Modern Age and Christian Research Journal. She won the inaugural Frost Farm prize and has lectured on art and poetry at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ conference, Groningen University, Netherlands, the Gerard Manley Hopkins Conference, Regis University, Denver, and Trinity Western’s VERGE conference on art and narrative. Her book of poetry after the art of Vincent van Gogh is forthcoming from Wipf and Stock. She teaches nursing research for Regis University and Indiana Wesleyan and has a PhD from the University of Rochester. 

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